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Attitude of Media and Government Toward Youth Crime
Youth crime in England and Wales is quite a popular but controversial topic in media as the headline grabbing terms like “yob” and “ASBO” appear with regular frequency. A child in England and Wales is anyone under the age of 18 as defined by law, while a young offender is anyone convicted of an offence between the age of 10 and 20. Most of the reported crime in media relating to young offenders involves “anti-social behavior, violence, and sometimes even just kids hanging out in large groups on the street.” It is abundantly clear than not all offences committed by young offenders are of very serious nature even as the media has a tendency to sensationalize offences committed by them. According to data compiled by Crimeinfo it appears that a majority of crimes committed by young men and women are not of a very serious nature: “Theft, handling stolen goods, burglary, fraud or forgery and criminal damage make up more than 68% of youth crime; Almost eight in ten of the incidents self-reported in a 2004 survey were not of a serious nature. The most common offences were non-injury assaults (28%); the selling of non Class A substances (19%) and thefts from the workplace or from school (16%); When violent incidents do occur, many don’t involve injury and are often committed on the ‘spur of the moment’ against someone the young person knows. This often means a fight (maybe between friends) and usually takes place near home in the afternoon time; At the end of December 2005 more children were in prison for robbery than any other offence; Despite media attention on violent offending, few cautions or convictions relate to violence”.
The British government aims for every child whatever their background or circumstances to offer them the support they need to be healthy and safe; enjoy and achieve; make a positive contribution; and achieve economic well being. In March 2005, the first children’s commissioner for England was appointed. The commissioner was entrusted with the task of “gathering and putting forward the views of the most vulnerable children and young people in society, and will promote their involvement in the work of organizations whose” In November 2000, Children’s fund was launched to tackle disadvantage among children and young people. Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships funded by the Home Office aims at the reduction in crime. A number of other programs like Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, the Prolific and Other Priority Offenders Strategy, Local Area Agreements, Neighborhood Policing etc. are being run. In March 2006, the Youth Justice Board published Youth Resettlement – A Framework for Action. This framework focuses on a number of areas and highlights issues specific to the youth context. The areas covered by the framework are: Case management and transitions; Accommodation; Education, training and employment; Health; Substance Misuse; Families; Finance, Benefits and Debt.
Paul Omajo Omaji has strongly favored the case for restorative justice in place of retributive justice system which according to him is traditional and outdated. The tradition justice systems have failed to deliver, according to him, therefore a radical transformation in the justice delivery system in partnership with local agencies might be needed.
Recently the government has introduced a range of intervention measures to check crime in the first place. These and similar other programs are aimed at a wider population of children at risk. These include:
Sure Start: aiming to improve the health and well being of families with children up to the age of 4 in the first place ensuring they are ready to flourish when they go to school.
On Track: is a small initiative aimed at older children who have been identified as at risk of getting involved in a crime.
Communities That Care: is an evidence based prevention program run by communities in partnership with local agencies.
Youth Inclusion Program (YIP) targets 50 of the most ‘at risk’ or ‘most disaffected’ 13 to 16 year olds in the most deprived neighborhoods.
Safer Schools Partnerships (SSPs): place police officers in schools to reduce truancy, crime and victimization among young people, challenge unacceptable behavior, and provide a safe and secure learning environment, and
Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (YISPs): are multi agency panels set up by the Youth Justice Board to target children at risk of offending and those starting to offend.
David Farrington, Professor of Psychological Criminology at CambridgeUniversity, discusses a program that has been highly successful in America that could also be applied in Britain. The program he speaks of is Communities that Care program aimed at reducing antisocial behavior among young people. It has been devised by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle. It can be easily adapted in the United Kingdom for its flexibility and systematic approach. It is known as ‘a risk and protection focused program’, based on a social development strategy that can be tailored to the specific needs of a neighborhood, district or city. Its features include:
Community mobilization: key leaders together with a management board consisting of representatives from local agencies and the community work in close coordination. The board arranges a detailed assessment of local risks and resources and formulates an action plan.
Implementation: implementing techniques from a menu of strategies that research has shown to be effective, is aimed at addressing priority risk and protection factors
Evaluation: detailed monitoring is an inherent part of the program so as to evaluate program’s progress and effectiveness.
There are mentoring programs with the potential to be quite successful, but are unfortunately languishing for funds. One such project aimed at reducing the risk of criminal behavior amongst young people in Cambridgeshire. “The plea for financial support from CSV Cambridge Mentors and Peers comes in the wake of national acclaim for one of its sister projects in Essex which was featured recently in The Independent newspaper and BBC1’s Breakfast news program. Both projects, plus a third one in Bedford aim to reduce the risk of criminal behavior amongst young people”
The research at the University of Luton Vauxhall, Centre for the Study of Crime has shown distinct positive impact that volunteer mentoring projects involving young offenders can lead to: “a reduction in offending behavior, a reduction in problems at school and an improvement in young people’s confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness. The young people involved highlight the significant value of the ‘volunteer mentor’ role – they say they value the friendship, trust, guidance and encouragement of the volunteer.” The editorial of The Independent has spoken eloquently about the mentoring schemes for young people. Its editorial says, “The Mentor and Peers (MAP) project, run by the Community Service Volunteers charity, is interesting because it aims to avoid the error of similar schemes: waiting for young people to fall foul of the law before offering them guidance”.
CSV Cambridgeshire Mentors and Peers was established in 2002. It expanded and grew to recruit and train 18 dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers that made a huge difference to the lives of young people in Cambridge and the surrounding areas. “Research shows how volunteers can help in the fight against crime in the UK, indicating that volunteering has an effect on reducing – and even preventing – crime. Unfortunately, in spite of its success and support from the local Youth Offending Service, CSV Cambridgeshire Mentors and Peers will no longer be able to offer mentoring to local young people due to a lack of funding.”
The government programs have not all been very successful. The Sure Start program was expected to be highly successful, but the evaluation’s interim findings were not quite encouraging. On Track Program is successful to the extent of reaching the high risk families in the deprived areas, use of these services is lower than anticipated. However, the program is being viewed favorably among parents and children where they are used. This program runs the risk of stigmatizing the very children and families it intends to help, since it is an individual rather than area based study. An alternative model borrowed from the US, the Communities That Care, is now being rolled out in UK. The other government initiatives have also shown at best the mixed results. The Youth Inclusion Program aimed at 10 hours of intervention per person per week, but in practice very few young people ( less than 10 percent) achieved this level of attendance. SSP programs have shown a robust success in terms of reduced truancy, and improved exam pass rates. According to an assessment of offending data in three schools that adopted SSP model of a full time police officer plus support team, a before and after study found that 139 offences were prevented annually.
Another crucial initiative, Every Child Matters, is in response to the tragic death of Victoria Climbie in 2002, who was persistently abused, tortured and murdered by her own relative. The government responded by initiating a public inquiry that subsequently published a consultation document ‘Every Child Matters’ (DfES 2003). It offers a new initiative on securing the well being of children and young people up to the age of 19. It ensures intervention reaches children before the crisis point.
Until recently due to limited empirical evidence, evaluation of youth crime program was restricted to two main programs- Dalston Youth Project (DYP) and CHANCE. Another program Youth At Risk (YAR) gained publicity but it has not been subject to independent published research. The DYP runs programs for 11-14 year olds and 15-18 year-olds, the disaffected youths from one of the most deprived boroughs in England and Wales. Research on the older age group suggests some possible impact on self-reported offending and truancy (though not drug use). DYP worked successfully with about half those involved. However, about half did not engage with the project in any meaningful way. The overall impact on offending behavior was disappointing and gains in other areas such as behavior, attitudes and learning were modest.
CHANCE was another significant UK mentoring program established in 1996 to work with primary school children with behavioral problems. Since the evaluation was extremely small scale with very limited number of children. Another significant study in the UK evaluated 10 mentoring programs focusing on highly disadvantaged young people. The study found crucial and significant impacts of mentoring in the lives of disaffected young people in context of engagement with education, training and employment.
Youth crime is a sensitive topic in the western world. Although available data on youth offenses indicate a decline in crimes committed by the young people in age group 12-30 over the last decade and a half, some experts are of the opinion that the data needs to be examined carefully. Media and politics too have debated enthusiastically on the youth crime losing the focus on the topic. While politicians and people by and large displayed a knee-jerk reaction to youth offending by favoring harsher punitive measures, a number of studies have gone on to point that there is little understanding and appreciation of youth offending among the masses. The studies have pointed that a majority of the youth offences are in the nature of minor offences or even childhood pranks.
However, the researches on the topic have identified a number of risk factor associated with youth offences that almost makes it predictable. Therefore, it is now almost unanimously contended that approaches that deal with early intervention in offence prevention can be quite successful, while the traditional approaches of punitive, penal and retributive justice not only entail a huge cost to the exchequer but hardly account for reduction in offences. The government and the voluntary agencies run a number of programs aimed at identifying the risk group among the population and intervening in a timely manner. Earlier, quite a few case studies came to light that further reinforces the faith in early intervention approaches. The programs have shown a mixed result largely due to the apathy of the target groups. Some of the programs based on community and neighborhood approaches have shown better results.
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